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Let Our Spirituality Shine
Australia has a rich spiritual heritage. So why don’t we shout about it? Why don’t we teach our children – and each other – about what God has done throughout the history of our country?
I recall when I was writing my book Living Water to Light the Journey. I wanted to feature some Australian heroines and heroes, to help parents provide their kids with role models to emulate.
I decided to write about Caroline Chisholm, an Australian pioneer who worked so hard to help women migrants in the 19th century, and is truly a great heroine. (One biographer describer her as “one of the world’s great social reformers – a heroine on the grand scale”.)
I looked for a copy of her 1842 book on immigration problems. It was the first ever publication by a woman in Australia, and it seemed the only copy available in Melbourne was on microfilm at the La Trobe University library.
I consulted it there, and was amazed to find that it was not simply a powerful plea for greater protection for women migrants to Australia, but that it was also a deeply spiritual document. Like some of the mediaeval female Christian mystics, Chisholm was writing in graphic detail of her relationship with God and of her efforts to know and follow God’s will.
She had no doubts that her work on behalf of young women migrants was divinely inspired. As she wrote: “I was impressed with the idea that God had, in a peculiar manner, fitted me for this work.”
And she saw in this work a chance to enter into a deep spiritual relationship with her Lord:
During the season of Lent of that year I suffered much; but on the Easter Sunday I was enabled at the altar of our Lord to make an offering of my talents to the God who gave them. I promised to know neither country or creed, but to try and serve all justly and impartially. I asked only to be enabled to keep these poor girls from being tempted, by their need, to mortal sin; and resolved that to accomplish this I would in every way sacrifice my feelings - surrender all comfort - nor, in fact, consider my own wishes or feelings, but wholly devote myself to the work I had in hand. I felt my offering was accepted, and that God’s blessing was on my work: but it was his will to permit many serious difficulties to be thrown in my way, and to conduct me through a rugged path of deep humiliation.
One such humiliation came when a person she regarded as a friend wrote a letter to a newspaper, opposing her work. It was, she said:
a missile of great strength - I felt it keenly; no other person in the colony could have thrown more serious difficulties in my path: these things are permitted to try our faith and exercise our patience. I felt a dreariness of spirit creep over me, and, confirmed in my opinion, that to leave Sydney for a few days would be prudent; but it was the will of God to prevent this…
Caroline Chisholm’s achievements are well recognised in Australia, thanks especially to a steady rise recently in research into the role of women in our pioneering days. And historians do generally point to her religious convictions when writing about her.
But they seldom describe the profound depth of her spirituality, even though it was central to her activities. It is a shameful neglect that speaks to the kind of society we have become - one that somehow feels embarrassed by its spiritual side and wishes to conceal it, like Uncle Joe’s alcoholism or Cousin Joan’s mental troubles.
Is it any wonder that we are giving ourselves - and especially our young – so little to believe in?